Skip to main content

Hate Speech

Volume 600: debated on Monday 12 October 2015

No one in this country should live in fear because of who they are. We have made progress in tackling hate crime, but we are determined to do more, including challenging those who spread extremist messages and seek to divide our society. We will therefore develop a new hate crime action plan, working in partnership with communities and across Government to ensure that we have strong measures to stop these deplorable crimes.

Can my right hon. Friend reassure me that in tackling hate speech, the Government will continue to protect and cherish freedom of speech in this country, and, in particular, that Christian Ministers need have nothing to fear when preaching biblical principles in their own pulpits, as their predecessors have done for more than 1,000 years?

I assure my hon. Friend, who campaigns so much for the protection of religious freedoms, that we value the role of faith in society, and will protect everyone’s right to practise their faith. Freedom of speech is a fundamental value that binds our society together, and we will always protect that right. Nothing that we are doing, or planning to do, to tackle hate crime and extremism will stop the United Kingdom’s long tradition of preaching.

I am very grateful for the Minister’s answer. Will she assure the House that nothing in legislation will undermine not just Christianity, but people who preach other faiths?

I assure my hon. Friend that we are doing nothing in legislation that will prevent the right to believe, and the right to practise and preach. What we are doing is focusing on people who seek to use religious texts as an excuse to promote hatred and extremism. That is what we want to stop.

Does the Minister agree that the Secretary of State’s speech to the Conservative party conference could itself be defined as hate speech, and that it did nothing for her bid for the leadership of the Conservative party and everything for a potential bid for the leadership of UKIP?

Is the Minister aware of the current case of Pastor James McConnell in Belfast, who is being prosecuted for a sermon he delivered in his church to his congregation, and does the Minister accept that, with all the best will in the world, it is ordinary, decent citizens who are fearful of stepping over a line who will be prosecuted and persecuted under the crime of hate speech, and not those paramilitaries and terrorists we need to focus on?

Order. I listened intently to what the hon. Gentleman said and from the phraseology he used it seems that a prosecution is currently under way. If that is so, the sub judice rule applies and therefore a degree of caution in the ministerial response would be prudent.

Thank you, Mr Speaker; you took the words out of my mouth. I clearly cannot comment on that matter, but I do want to assure the hon. Gentleman that using religious texts as an excuse for hatred and as a reason to incite hatred is not acceptable and we will not stand for it.

Last week the Women and Equalities Committee visited Oldham, Manchester and Birmingham and heard from a number of local organisations about their continuing concern about hate crime, and particularly hate speech. I know the Government take this issue very seriously. Can the Minister update the House on the progress they are making in terms of the reporting of hate crime, which is clearly still a considerable concern in many communities?

I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. We met last week and discussed some aspects of this. We are looking at the feasibility of the reporting of hate crime and will be making a decision shortly.

Balancing freedom of speech with the need to ensure we have a strong, diverse and cohesive society is a challenge for any Government, but what practical funding does the Home Office offer to support communities like mine that want to run initiatives to bring diverse communities together and promote that more cohesive society?

As I just said, we are looking to introduce a new hate crime action plan and we are looking at all the ways we can support those local communities who want to work actively to promote community cohesion and our shared values.

The Government want universities to ban speakers who say things that do not break the law but which do promote hatred or violence. Can the Minister give one clear example of a statement made in a UK university which should now be banned?

I welcome the shadow Minister to her place and look forward to working with her. I think she will agree that this is about how we protect our shared values and how we make sure we work together and keep our citizens safe. I hope she will work with the Government to make sure we do that.